By Lynn R. Mitchell
An engineering marvel, West Virginia’s U.S. 48 — known as Corridor H to West Virginians and as “Robert Byrd’s Road to Nowhere” to some conservatives and environmentalists — is an east-west four-lane highway that, when completed, will extend for 148 miles and connect I-79 in central West Virginia to I-81 in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley at Strasburg. The Virginia portion has not been started but in West Virginia it is open from Moorefield to east of Davis, and construction continues on the unfinished portions. The far-reaching views are spectacular as the ribbon of roadway slices through mountains along the ridge tops and crosses rivers and valleys through the rugged Appalachian Mountains.
While traveling U.S. 48, another engineering marvel came into view along the ridge tops of Backbone Mountain. Looming over the highway were 44 giant wind turbines that stretched along the mountains as far as the eye could see, part of the Mountaineer Wind Farm that began production in 2002. Each turbine is 345 feet tall, an overwhelming addition to the landscape. Here is a 2009 YouTube video I found that shows the turbines at work.
The sight of so many turbines along the ridges was somehow mesmerizingly majestic as the blades slowly turned in the wind, and yet it was somehow disturbing to realize the view along those ridges had forever been changed because of the windmills. They towered over U.S. 48 as we drove past, enjoying the up-close-and-personal view of this alternative energy source, even though we couldn’t hear the whoosh-whoosh sound that I’ve read about while researching them.
In the distance the turbines almost blend into the sky. There was great debate about them before they were installed — birds were killed flying into the blades, especially bats — but there are now five wind farms in West Virginia so that source of harnessing energy seems to be here to stay.
Here is a YouTube video of the drive along U.S. 48, recorded in 2013 by Augusta County’s Simon Kinsinger.
This highway reminded of interstates in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado that have made travel from Denver into the ski areas far easier than the days of winding roads. The same is happening in West Virginia.
Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell
July 22, 2015